Union’s ‘skills black hole’ fear over future of West Norfolk construction training

GV CITB Bircham Norflk.
GV CITB Bircham Norflk.
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Proposed reforms to a West Norfolk-based construction training provider risk creating a “skills black hole” in the industry, union leaders have warned.

Unite says specialist programmes delivered at the Construction Industry Training Board’s (CITB) current Bircham Newton base are at particular risk from its reform programme.

But the CITB yesterday rejected the claims, insisting any future arrangements will need to at least match current provisions.

The future of the Bircham site has been high on the political agenda ever since the CITB announced proposals to close it, and move its headquarters to the Peterborough area in the autumn.

Earlier this month, multi-party talks were held in a bid to safeguard its future and potentially find additional uses for it.

A taskforce was set up to look at potential options during the meeting, which was hosted by West Norfolk Council, while CITB bosses also agreed to consider postponing a final decision on the future of the Bircham site for at least two years.

But Unite claims an internal blog post to staff by CITB chief executive Sarah Beale said the board plans to end its current training programmes by the beginning of 2020.

They say the post also included a warning that some parts of the operation would have to close if they could not be sold on.

Jerry Swain, Unite’s national officer for construction, said the union fears programmes which currently lose money and are supported by other, more lucrative, courses would be at greatest risk of being lost altogether.

He said: “Much of the direct training provided by the CITB is absolutely unique.

“If no one picks this up there is a real danger that the UK will not have the necessary skilled workforce to maintain a buoyant construction industry.

“The CITB is in danger of becoming a self-serving, self-satisfying organisation that fails to deliver the needs of the industry it is meant to serve.”

But Ms Beale said the present arrangements could not be sustained.

She said: “We are absolutely committed to finding an excellent training provider to take over our National Construction College sites, including at Bircham Newton, and the signs are positive that this will happen.

“CITB has been clear that any provision must be equal to, or even better in quality than that we currently offer.”